Nicholas Kripal had a knack for finding beauty in everyday objects, Rochelle Toner remembers.
“If you had a dinner party, and it was in the summertime, in August, he would bring a beautiful bowl of mixed heirloom tomatoes that he had grown. So there would be purple ones and red ones and yellow ones and green ones,” said Toner, who served as Tyler’s dean from 1989 to 2002 and worked alongside Kripal.
“It wasn’t just tomatoes, it wasn’t just tomato salad, it was this gorgeous thing in a beautiful bowl,” Toner added. “It wasn’t just a meal, it was elevated.”
Kripal, who served as the chair of the crafts department, passed away last September after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He worked at Temple from 1985 to 2016. Now, his signature ceramic sculptures are featured in “Configuration,” an exhibit along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The exhibit is one of many events intended to celebrate the Parkway’s 100th anniversary. During the next 14 months, Parkway 100 will commemorate the Parkway’s centennial through tours, exhibits and performances.
“Configuration” is on display at Park Towne Place, while other works of his sit on the second floor of the Tyler School of Art. Both exhibits will remain open until April 29.
Kripal used kitchen objects like bowls and jello molds to craft his pieces. His large, winding clay sculptures, which are reminiscent of the Celtic knotwork seen in medieval Scottish churches, are also featured in “Configuration.”
“His work is interesting, beautifully made and has been presented internationally,” said Hester Stinnett, a printmaking professor at Tyler who worked with Kripal.
“He takes these everyday objects and reworks them into beautiful sculpture,” said Patti Shwayder, the senior vice president of Aimco, one of the companies involved with the Parkway 100. “It not only gives us a chance to celebrate the art of the city, but it also reminds us of [the city’s] residents by using these everyday objects.”
Kripal’s work often had strong spiritual and religious themes, Toner said. He was fascinated by churches and the skill and work that laborers put into building them, she added.
“You can get this religious or spiritual feeling from art, where for a moment, you transcend the ordinary,” Toner said. “Nick’s work made you notice the extraordinary that he saw was always there.”
Kripal’s role in the artistic community extended past the walls of Tyler.
In 2004, he used his retirement savings to buy an abandoned plumbing warehouse and seafood processing building in Kensington. With Richard Hricko, a printmaking professor, Kripal transformed the dwelling into the Crane Arts Center, an affordable studio space for local artists.
Kripal and Hricko weren’t sure if Crane Arts would be a success, Toner said. They took out loans to fund the project. Now, it’s a sprawling hub of galleries, studios and creative activity.
“One thing led to another,” Toner said. “Again, taking something humble, and elevating it and making it beautiful. It’s a real theme there.”